Q&A: Nik Hewitt, Digital Marketing Strategist at Tank PR

In the first of a new series, I’ll be sharing the insight from a number of marketing experts. The aim is to develop a productive and enjoyable number of posts to inspire current and future marketers, not to mention their employers or clients. And for fans of Marvel, DC or any other comic book publisher, series or franchise, the final question is for you.

For each interview I’ve asked the guest ten questions, but as we’re going to be talking marketing and digital, I’m going to introduce them via their own Twitter bio. Without further ado, here’s my first victim subject, Nik Hewitt.

Worked in digital marketing 20yrs. Specialise in content/community strategy w/ @TankPR. Futurist. Small dog wrangler. Gamer. Marvel comics & cinema geek.

Tell me about your role?
I’m a Digital Strategist. I help clients set digital objectives and identify brand traits and audiences, creating tactics and a road map to get our clients where they want to be. I design creative campaigns. I work for Tank, a PR agency that understands digital, which is rare and really valuable; PR creates stories and I need stories to do my job. I identify audiences and create audience personas and work out what type of content they want to drive them through the purchase funnel, and how and where to deliver that.

I create daily messaging and monitor channels for some of our bigger clients. I design creative social ad campaigns. I write, a lot. I measure and optimise. I do a lot of hands-on training with clients; I do this myself because it’s a big part of keeping up to speed on the platforms and channels.

I also do a fair chunk of information architecture work, looking at existing digital assets for clients, and I lead our usability testing offering. I keep my team up-to-speed on all the latest platform developments and I lecture and speak at conferences, usually monthly, on digital marketing.

Basically, I make people and brands famous – online. Whatever they want to do, I make a plan to make it happen. If you want it blow by blow, here’s something I prepared earlier.

How does marketing fit with your business strategy?
Strategy is the backbone of what I do and we have an internal strategy as well as doing this for customers. Without strategy any marketing efforts are like throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. Defining which direction to head in is one of the core principles of marketing. Core marketing principles still apply, even in a digital environment.

Knowing which markets a business should compete in and what platforms to use to engage an audience are the very basics. Looking at assets and limitations and making a formal (signed-off) plan is just as valid today as it’s always been. Having a clear voice by referring to brand attributes and creating sample messaging makes things clear for all stakeholders. Strategy doesn’t just fit in, it’s the first step.

How do you come up with content ideas? Who’s involved?
The first seeds of inspiration often come from the client. Spending time to get to know a brand is always the first step. It’s amazing what you get from talking to sales teams and people who work for a company, getting a look behind the curtain and speaking to those who know the customers. It’s always a catalyst for ideas.

Content also comes from the audience. You get a feel for social channels and what the reader wants and the questions they want answering. If you don’t know what’s popular it’s just a matter of looking at metrics. There’s a lot of good creative insight in data.

Once I have everything on paper I do spend a lot of time tapping a pencil on my teeth, staring off into the middle distance. I read a lot. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I mind-map ideas. I read blogs and industry papers. I look at what the competition is up to. I go to seminars and conferences and I watch a lot of video. I follow anything that inspires me on LinkedIn and Twitter, especially good brand campaigns. I doodle, I listen to a lot of audio books and I carry an old fashioned paper and pen everywhere.

I’m really lucky to have a great team here at Tank. As I say, they create stories. They also see story opportunities. Every client gets a team behind them, not just me. There’s three or four or more of us per customer, all with different specialisms. These guys are ex-journalists and presenters, they’ve worked in the industry on the client and the agency side just as long as I have. They’re made of mixed demographics and interests. When I need them, we brainstorm. There are no wrong ideas, everything a catalyst for further conversation. We share thoughts, links and information between ourselves all the time.

How do you measure success?
Everything in strategy is goal or objective driven. How we measure success depends on what the client wants to achieve. If their goal is to find new clients then follower count might be important. If they want stimulate brand evangelists then shares, retweets and positive comments are a good benchmark. If they have a branding goal we might measure exposure and reach. We might want future customers to sign up for a newsletter so sign-ups are the obvious metric. It depends what the client wants to achieve. ROI is always results based. You have to have a goal and then decide how you’re going to measure that. We use a lot of professional tracking software to follow the user journey, it’s all important.

Personally, I measure success by whether I’m happy or not, and I’m lucky that experiential learning makes me happy (and that’s a fantastic bi-product of my job).

How has digital marketing helped you get ahead in business?
I get a lot of people connecting with me directly me through social media. I once picked up a three year contract in Colorado and Southern California through Twitter, working in social strategy and helping to build the PRNewswire Agility platform, just by speaking to someone. LinkedIn is the modern day Rolodex and it builds relationships and lets potential customers dip into any thought leadership content I generate, which adds credibility. I’ve had big retail clients with 500+ stores approach me through LinkedIn, and gone on to create strategy for them. I’ve a lot of followers on platforms like Twitter, so I can get my business message around if I want to. There’s a lot of power in that these days.

And personally?
We’re all brands now. Our digital profile is important and if we treat it like that it pays off. I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years. I’m not tied to my smartphone and I don’t publish a lot personally, I don’t have time, but being connected is part of The Information Age. I like ‘living in the future’ and watching the world change.

What’s your proudest achievement?
Well, I do have an Interactive BAFTA and a Webby and a Royal Television Society award and stuff, but… I once directed Brian Blessed in Shakespeare, in a shed, while drinking a cup of tea. I defy anyone to have done anything more English.

What tips would you give to those just starting out?
Actually , I wrote a blog post about this a while ago too. But here are ten tips:

  1. Brush up on the core marketing principles. They still very much apply
  2. Build a good foundation. Gather your data and know what’s useful and what’s supposition
  3. Don’t be afraid to experiment and maybe fail
  4. Marketing should be agile. Do whatever it takes to understand the end customer
  5. Read, listen to and watch everything that might be a catalyst for ideas. Have hobbies, lots of them
  6. Always get sign off from the client at every stage
  7. Digital marketing is a balance of art, data, and tech. Be a polymath
  8. Never be afraid to ask peoples opinion and never presume anything
  9. Find a good accountant
  10. Don’t get cocky or you’ll find yourself floating home.

Where do you see the future of digital?
Ahhh, certainly to a more semantic web. Data is starting to find us before we go looking for it, or even realise we need it. So is advertising. There’s a lot of power in this, especially connected to smartphones and mobile devices with geo-positioning functionality.

The online audience is a sceptical one. We’re going to move more and more away from a deferrer society to a referrer society. We don’t want to be told what to do, we want to ask our friends, colleagues and peers what’s the best for us. Social is perfect for this. Fostering brand evangelists is key. Personalisation, especially with the likes of bricks-and-mortar retail brands, is going to be really important.

Who knows. Within five years we’re likely to have a Facebook-funded 3D web experience, who knows what that’ll bring. Let’s face it, one good solar flare and we’re all out of job.

And, the final question, completely off topic, who’s your comic book character?
Well now you’re askin’… Though this may just make me sound like a nutter and fanboy.

*pulls out soapbox*

Magneto.

Not the movie Magneto. The comic Magneto. Around the Genosha sort of time.

Magneto’s one of the most popular and (no pun intended) polarising figures in comic books, certainly in the Marvel universe, and I like that he stimulates debate – just by saying this it’s probably seriously messing with another comic fans head. And yes, he was a hero, albeit an anti-hero. He was a teacher. He was all about the greater good. Magneto wants mutants to stand up for themselves, not just co-exist, because of racial persecution. So often, his somewhat extreme view of the world, is found out to be right – he probably just needs better PR. I have an original framed issue of #1 X-Men from 1963 on the wall in my office, his first appearance. Read ‘Magneto Testament’ sometime, the background story of his adolescence in Auschwitz. Brilliant work.

Perhaps it was fitting that huge Marvel fan Nik was the first in this Q&A series. But that aside, you can’t help but feel inspired by his answers, I hope you found it as insightful as I did.

Nik is a Digital Strategist at Tank PR and you can of course find him on Twitter and LinkedIn. He also writes on his own blog, with a back catalogue that stretches all the way back to 2005. Do check it out.

Nik Hewitt, thank you very much.

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Dave

Dad to Zach, digital marketeer at Tank PR, Derby County fan, film buff, book worm and husband. In that order, but don't tell the wife.